When the news broke of Texas A&M hiring Ross Bjork as it’s Athletic Director my initial reaction was, “Meh.” After reading and doing more research on Bjork along with watching his introduction and initial press conference my reaction is now, “Eh.”
This was not a home run AD hire by any stretch. It doesn’t mean that Bjork can’t be an outstanding AD. Only time will tell what kind of hire this is. He’s a stray from our most recent AD hires as he’s short on experience compared to Bill Byrne, Eric Hyman, and Scott Woodward.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing as ambition can sometimes serve someone better than experience. One of those names on that list was a failure and the other was just okay when it was all said and done. I think it’s possible Bjork can be better than those two people so he has that going for him. If he’s not better than the worst name on that list we’re in big trouble. I don’t think that’ll be the case.
Bjork Before A&M:
Before Bjork was hired I only knew of him due to the NCAA investigations and Hugh Freeze hiring at Ole Miss. How that was handled by Ole Miss was a colossal failure in my mind. Ole Miss was taken down in classic failed leadership fashion by not getting in front of what they were charged with. They then made it worse trying to make it sound better than it was placing the blame somewhere else.
It was clear to me the administration at Ole Miss did minimal digging when allegations came about. They simply hoped time would pass with a toothless NCAA that couldn’t find anything. It’s a decent plan but it didn’t work out so well for Ole Miss. The Ole Miss football program is paying a major price today for decisions made under Bjork’s watch. How much of it was Bjork’s decision I have no idea but he was certainly along for the ride and was front and center at times.
If you don’t know the details Hugh Freeze went public taunting people to come forward with specific examples of NCAA infringements. That was a moronic decision unless you know you’re clean. Nobody in collegiate sports is completely clean so keep your mouth shut. To make it worse Freeze then went on to say the NCAA was investigating issues under Houston Nutt who was the previous head coach. I’ve read Bjork did that as well. Houston Nutt then sued Ole Miss for making those statements.
Because of the lawsuit, an open records request was made of Hugh Freeze’s university phone. I believe it was done by Freeze’s attorney as they were trying to find evidence of Freeze talking to a specific sportswriter. This writer had Tweeted the news the NCAA was only investigating allegations under Nutt’s tenure and not Freeze. Nutt’s attorney made the request over a three-day period to hopefully not clue in Ole Miss to what he was looking for. After receiving the phone records Nutt’s attorney worked with a moderator from a Mississippi State message board who discovered the call to the Tampa escort service. This moderator had already started investigating the NCAA allegations and Nutt’s attorney had somehow found him to get information for their case.
Nutt’s attorney takes the apparent call to an escort service to Ole Miss. Ole Miss claims it was simply a mis-dial. This causes Ole Miss and Bjork to investigate Freeze’s cell phone calls. They then uncover the “pattern of conduct that is not consistent with our expectations.” At that point Freeze confesses to the conduct in question and resigns.
I’ll add links to all of this at the end if you want to see the details but here’s the jist of what happened – Ole Miss was not honest in their statements of what was going on with the NCAA investigation. They were also not proactive in their investigation. Because of that they wrongly placed the blame on the previous coach. He then sued the University because they wouldn’t apologize for the unjust claim. If they never blame Nutt or even just apologized after blaming him there’s no lawsuit that uncovers Freeze calling an escort service. The discovery of that call lead to Freeze’s abrupt resignation. Bjork was AD as all of this went down.
I’m certainly not saying this is a scandal at Bjork’s doing but it’s certainly not a good look for the man in control of the Ole Miss Athletic Department at the time. Ole Miss GROSSLY mis-managed this and made it worse than what it could have been. How much Bjork is to blame I have no idea. It gives me some pause and I hope proper due diligence by A&M was done related to this specific matter. It’s pretty bad when you analyze it on the surface.
Bjork might have simply been caught between a winning head coach and clueless administration leaving him powerless. It’s a position many ADs often find themselves. The point is he was there and the athletic department was under his leadership when all of this happened. Ole Miss sat on their hands while denying and even lying about the allegations and paid a major price. Look at the state of Ole Miss football today. I never want that to happen to the Texas A&M football program.
It’s very possible Bjork learned a great deal from all of this. Hopefully he has. Hopefully he would handle it differently in the future. I hope he was questioned extensively about what happened, his role, and how he would handle it differently.
Today, Ross Bjork is a 46-year-old serving in his third role as an Athletic Director. He had previous stops at Western Kentucky (3 years) and Ole Miss (6 years). He also served as Associate AD at Miami and UCLA prior to that. He’s certainly not a seasoned AD like the ADs that came before him at A&M. He does have some experience with most of it in the SEC so he’s familiar with the conference.
After watching his introduction and press conference there’s certainly some things to like about Bjork. He appears enthusiastic and capable. He seems very likable and personality wise I think he’ll fit in at A&M just fine. He seems to understand the day to day mechanics of running an athletic department so that’s not a concern at all. There’s no doubt he’ll be actively engaged which is a great thing.
My greatest reservation about Bjork outside of the mess at Ole Miss is if Bjork has the acumen a seasoned athletic director has. Some things can only be developed with experience. He’s definitely not at a point in his career where he’s experienced a number of situations or has an extensive network of deep connections. In a role like his that experience and those connections can prove to be invaluable.
The reality is Bjork shouldn’t have to do much other than one single thing which I’ll get to in a bit. He has one of the best coaches in college football signed to 9 more seasons. He has a new football stadium that won’t need any major work anytime soon. He has a brand-new basketball coach that appears to be the perfect fit all things considered. Reed Arena might need some work from a fan experience standpoint, but he can worry about that when Aggie basketball starts winning again. The two big revenue sports couldn’t be in a better situation. He just needs to keep the trains on time for these two sports.
Blue Bell Park might need some enhancements with the success of ticket sales in recent years. There certainly appears to be demand for Aggie baseball based on attendance. There might be some things that can be done to Blue Bell Park to create some more revenue. He has brand-new track and softball facilities. Facility wise A&M is in great shape so it’s all about keeping them fresh and relevant.
Coaching wise he’ll likely have to make a move on a baseball or softball coach soon depending on if the A&M administration wants to win a national championship or not. We have two good coaches but their body of work says they’ll never win it all. Gary Blair basically has tenure so if he doesn’t completely bomb he’ll get to pick when he steps down.
There shouldn’t be any major decisions in the foreseeable future for Bjork so that should give him plenty of runway to gain experience and connections. That’s good for Bjork and A&M.
Bjork’s Number One Responsibility:
Bjork’s number one job will be keeping Jimbo Fisher happy. Everything else is secondary. A&M has basically mortgaged the next decade of Aggie Athletics based on the success of Jimbo Fisher. I’m totally fine with that. College athletics is a cyclical thing based on coaching hires. A&M is positioned in an upswing so Bjork needs to make sure A&M capitalizes on that.
I know Jimbo signed off on the hire but they’ve never actually worked together. Bjork apparently had a strong recommendation from Jimbo’s agent but that doesn’t mean everything will be fine. This is a situation where someone has a strong endorsement from a mutual colleague but you never know until you’ve actually worked with someone. This is a MAJOR difference between Woodward and Bjork. Jimbo and Woodward had worked together so they knew what to expect from each other. Bjork and Jimbo still have to feel each other out on a day to day basis.
In conjunction with this, Bjork needs to make sure there’s no interference from A&M administrators when it comes to Jimbo Fisher coaching football. I have no clue if the rumors about John Sharp are true when it comes to needlessly meddling in the athletic department. There’s no doubt that John Sharp carries a big stick when it comes to the A&M administration though. If there’s any truth to Sharp rubbing people the wrong way then Bjork needs to make sure he absorbs every arrow that Sharp could ever fire at Jimbo.
I thought it was interesting Bjork and Sharp had only talked on the phone and didn’t meet in person. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal as talking in person wouldn’t likely change anything but it’s clear Bjork and Sharp don’t really know each other at all. I’m sure Bjork was taking the job no matter what as this is a major step for him. It seems Sharp was okay with Bjork if President Young and everyone else was okay with it. Let’s hope Sharp continues to leave it to everyone else to manage the athletic department leaving Jimbo to do his thing.
I don’t believe Jimbo has any reason to leave A&M. However, that doesn’t mean Scott Woodward or another AD won’t be waiting for an opportunity to grab Jimbo based on timing and circumstances. Bjork better make sure that opportunity never comes. If Sharp does indeed have an ego it better never clash with Jimbo’s. An early departure by Jimbo would be a colossal failure for A&M. Bjork must make sure his number one priority is avoiding this. This is why his lack of seasoned experience bothers me the most. I’m not sure he has the acumen to navigate a pending riff between Sharp and Jimbo if one develops.
I hope it never comes to that but stranger things have happened. There are examples where egos in athletics sank an organization. The most famous is probably Jimmy Johnson quitting on Jerry Jones. Similarly, Bill Parcells appeared to give up on Jerry’s meddling. For you Astros fans Gerry Hunsicker quitting on Drayton McLane put the Astros in a decade long funk that took getting new ownership to turn around.
When you have a competent person running a part of your organization they need to be left the hell alone. That’s Jimbo Fisher with Aggie football. Provided Bjork does everything he can to keep distractions away from Jimbo his tenure his going to be just fine. A happy and content Jimbo at Texas A&M is all that really matters.
This is not a terrible hire but it is an unknown hire. There are some questions based on Bjork’s tenure at Ole Miss. It doesn’t mean he’s not capable. Only time will tell what kind of hire this is. Anyone that says otherwise is lying. There’s certainly some potential for immense success with Bjork but there’s also a possibility it could be a failure if he’s not proactive in some regards.
I never want to see Bjork in a similar situation like at Ole Miss talking about a premature Jimbo departure for any reason. I want Jimbo’s departure to be a recognition of success with lots of championship hardware on display in addition to a MAFGA hat.
Here’s some examples of what I never want to see with Bjork at Texas A&M.
The first one is the Ole Miss administration reacting to the NCAA allegations. It looks like a hostage situation with expressionless faces simply reading words. I can’t believe anyone thought this was a good idea. They should have just done a press release and been done with it. It’s 20 minutes of inane chatter with nobody looking good. It almost looks like an extended SNL skit.
This is Bjork explaining why Freeze was forced to resign. It’s not terrible but it’s not a good look for an AD either considering how the resignation came about.
This is a long but GREAT read on how things went down including things that Bjork said that wound up not being true. The whole article encompasses how crazy college athletics can be.
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